Essay, Research Paper
Criticisms of Mark Twain: Past and Present
Mark Twain is regarded as one of the most prominent American authors. Twain was born Samuel L. Clemons several years prior to the Civil War in a small town of Hannibal, Missouri. Much of his boyhood was spent frolicking in the muddy brown waters of the Mississippi. After his fathers death early in his life, Twain was hired for his dream job as a Steamboat Captain on the Mississippi River. This chance was cut short by the start of the Civil War. Twain spent several years as a confederate volunteer, but this did not last either. Twain struck out for the west hoping to make a fortune as a silver prospector. The only richness Twain achieved searching for silver was plenty of experiences on which he could write. His first successful publication “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” is a collection of stories Twain heard while living in the mining camp in Nevada. After his failed attempt at a quick fortune, Twain returned to the east. This is where he published his most famous works which included Tom Sawyer and it’s sequel Huckleberry Finn. Twain was regarded as a humorist because of his lively imagination that sent his stories into the realm of outlandish. His most highly acclaimed novel Huckleberry Finn appears to be nothing more than a boys tale at first glance, but in actuality it is taught in college literature classes because of it’s underlining satires and themes. It was even considered to be subversive at the time when it was written because of it’s anti-government ideas. This story as it appears tells of a young boy, Huckleberry Finn, and his adventures as he travels down the Mississippi. Along the way he picks up a few passengers. The first of these is Jim, a runaway slave. Huck, as he is called for short, decides instead of turning Jim into the authorities, that he will help him get to the free state. Before long Huck and Jim are accompanied by to scam artists, the King and the Duke. The novel elaborates on the tales of these four completely different individuals as the float lazily down the Mississippi. Huck journey down the rivers is not only an adventure, but it is also a conversion from boyhood into an adult. Twain uses the cover of an adventurous boys tale to satirize many of the things that he found to be wrong with society. Although the book was published more than a decade ago, many of the problems that occurred in Twain’s society are still prevalent today.
One such topic that Twain satirizes heavily in the book is the institution of religion. This criticism of religion can be seen from the start of the book all the way through to the very end. A problem that Twain finds very disgusting about the institution of religion is the hypocrisy. An example of this is the Widow Douglas. The Widow Douglas is more concerned with the behavior of other people than she is of herself. In one case she tells Huck that he cannot smoke because it is dirty; God would not approve, but she herself dips snuff. Another thing that Mark Twain finds ridiculous about religion is the pure stupidity of it all. As in his short story “Letters From Earth” where Twain criticizes humans belief of heaven, Twain does so in a more light hearted manner in Huckleberry Finn: “she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing , forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so.” Although it doesn’t seem like much of an attack on religion, Twain so cleverly does this many times throughout the story to make a vivid point.
If Mark Twain were to write Huckleberry Finn today, there is no doubt that he would be quick to make these criticisms about religion again. Everyday people have to open there newspapers and turn on their televisions to news of Priests and ministers molesting young boys and stealing others money. If anything it has become worse of a problem than before. There are men that stand out on college campuses and on busy street corners yelling and screaming about the downfall of the sinner society of which many are a part of. The Brownsville Revival in Pensacola would no doubt be a critical point for Mark Twain if he were still able to write about it. This is a huge church committed more to making money than to helping the people as they claim. People still believe in heaven as a place in the clouds with no bitterness, just days of boredom sitting around praising God. Religion may not be as prevalent in people’s lives as they were in the past, but the same problems still exist.
Another topic that Twain plays heavily upon is human gullibility. In Huckleberry Finn there were few people that could not be persuaded into anything. This may have been Twain’s sole purpose behind the characters the King and the Duke. Although these characters added life to the story, they were con-men, although not very good ones. Unfortunately they were still able to prey on the gullibility of the people. The one example that stands out so strongly is the production of Shakespeare. Even though the King and the Duke were not actors and didn’t know any more Shakespeare than the average man, they convinced the towns people to pay money to come and see them act: “them rapscallions took four hundred and sixty-five dollars in that three nights”(363).
The same type of con artists exist in the world today, but they also occur at a much larger scale. These people prey on the human gullibility of people, and their instincts to trust. One such type of company that preys on the gullibility of people are the finance companies. People that are so desperate to get out of a financial rut will put everything they own on the chance to for one time have financial freedom. This is just a fantasy though. For the few who do manage to make it out of a financial situation this may have been a good idea, but many end up worse off than they were before after losing everything they own.
Twain’s ability to cover direct criticisms of society with the cover of a boys tale as in Huckleberry Finn is still unmatched to this day, and the problems in which Twain found fault in his own time are still very much prevalent today. It just goes to show that there are some things which cannot be changed with time. Some of the satires that Twain used in his book are not so real today though. With the abolition of slavery, one of Twain’s most pointed criticisms, the satire became a piece of history. Huckleberry Finn was written at a period during Twain’s life when he still had a sense of humor, but his bitterness was always evident throughout the book.
Thesis Sentence: Although the books was published more than a decade ago, many of the problems that occurred in Twain’s society are still prevalent today.
I. Religion (Twain)
B. View of Heaven
II. Religion (Present)
1. Bible thumpers
2. Brownsville Revival
III. Human Gullibility (Twain)
A. The King and The Duke
B. Shakespeare Production
IV. Human Gullibility (Present)
A. Big Finance Companies
B. Prey on poor